Monday, 31 May 2010


Small businesses play a significant role at the heart of our communities; they create wealth and sustainable employment opportunities for local people. Profits and investments made by them tend to stay within the communities where they are based. For too many years economic development in Wales has been focused on large scale development of what can be best described a single egg solutions, which promise much and deliver significantly less, the focus should be on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants.

This focus on attracting large scale single enterprises, which promise much but deliver significantly less than anticipated. The LG development near Newport, is a good example of an expensive disaster / fiasco [please take your pick] which promised the usual total of 6,000 jobs - accrued significant public funding - which was committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague, yet never delivered anything like what was promised. While anyone (even a Tory) with half a brain or even half an understanding of the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies at the time that and a basic understanding of where technological developments in relation to PC monitor screens were going, would have put their hands up and said hang on a moment.

A combination of what can best be described as fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and a forthcoming Westminster election led to one of the spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made, something that ended up costing us millions of pounds worth of public money. The WDA has in truth not really consistently delivered anything like long term economic stability and much needed long term job opportunities to our communities that it should have done.

European funding opportunities have been seriously wasted, where are the physical assets, by which I mean the things you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail and road), broadband infrastructure, etc - that bring long term benefits to our communities. How much money has been scammed (and scammed may be the key word) into dubious training programmes and questionable educations programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy?

The Plaid driven One Wales Government has made significant efforts and attempts to think and act differently when it comes to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises, which are the only real thing that will put wealth into our communities, and develop and sustain longer term employment possibilities. Attracting branch factory operations of a relative short term duration does not help develop our economy - we really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has noted that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss continues then by 2015, less than 5 years hence, there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that will badly hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential job opportunities. Over the last twenty years the commercial hearts of many of our communities have been seriously damaged as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision making on the part of local government and central government indifference.

When combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable, ill-thought out and more than questionable out of town and edge of town retail developments which leave next to no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers and deprive consumers of real choice. When you factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities and you begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it. Local small businesses as well as trading with us the consumers, also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford.

The Welsh Assembly Government's Green jobs Strategy is a welcome step in the right direction but clearly more needs to be done. The National Assembly needs to have the power to vary business taxes in order to help boost our businesses, as well as encourage investment in skills and the tools of their businesses and their workers. If we are going to make Wales a nation of aspiring entrepreneurs and to encourage and enable them, our communities and our economy to flourish we need to encourage the development of community owned social enterprises.

The Rowlands review into the provision of growth capital was most welcome; it recognised that an economical vibrant SME sector is vital for economic growth. There has been a lack of provision for companies in Wales who are looking for between £2 and £10 million pounds in capital, this has to change if we are to encourage sustainable economic growth and development.

It’s pretty clear that the present financial market and its institutions have failed over recent years to supply sufficient venture capital for the SME sector in Wales. We need a venture capital fund for Wales, which should be established by, but independent of the Welsh Assembly Government. Such an independent venture capital fund could raise capital and deliver investment through a co-investment model, with approved private sector partners to our SME sector, where such investment would make a real difference.

More of the same old twaddle from Whitehall and Cathays won't do at all, vastly expensive one egg, one basket schemes to generate the seemingly standard 6,000 jobs, just won't do. And speaking of twaddle, which was all that we were offered by the London based political parties, what we need is fresh thinking and action from the new government - more than just talk, we need some concrete steps to encourage growth, boost manufacturing industry, support our small to medium sized enterprises and an end to the business rates and that's just to start with... otherwise it will just be a case of same old, same old with ill thought out out public sector cuts which will do nothing to boost our communities and our economy.

Friday, 28 May 2010


News that Wales' four police authorities are to have their budgets cut by a total of £6.4m this year is not good news. The cuts have been announced by Nick Herbert (Policing and Criminal Justice Minister ) as part of a UK-wide cut of £125m in funding for forces. South Wales Police faces cuts of £2.8m, North Wales Police faces cuts of £1.4m, while Gwent Police faces cuts of £1.3m and Dyfed-Powys Police cuts of around £900,000.

The cuts in funding for 2010/2011 have been announced as part of efforts to help reduce the UK's budget deficit. Last year (June 2009) there were proposed reductions in the number of Police stations and threats to reduce services. Heaven knows where these cuts will fall and what price will be paid when it comes to providing law and order and front-line policing in our communities. 

The bottom line is that while there should always be room for cost saving, but, not at the price of important front-line Policing services and Police Stations which need to be staffed and maintained. One question that needs to be asked is that if Policing was devolved to Cardiff, would our Police Forces and our communities be facing cuts on this scale or would we be able to do things differently?

Thursday, 27 May 2010


An appeal has been launched to raise funds for the purchase and restoration of Golden Grove mansion in Llandeilo. The aim is to offer suitable facilities for convalescence and treatment for our Armed Forces personnel, who have been physically or mentally wounded in the wars. With public help, the aim is to offer them a place to heal and recover in peaceful and beautiful surroundings, together with the very best of care and attention which they deserve after their sacrifices.

Check out the website for more information on how we can help:

Saturday, 22 May 2010


There was always more than a faint whiff of green wash about the proposed development of a 25 MWe Power Plant biofuel fed (Palm Oil from Indonesia) power station in Newport Docks. The residents of Pill, interested parties (including Plaid locally) and green pressure groups successfully worked with Newport City Councillors to get the original application thrown out. however, these things are never clear cut and VO-GEN ENERGY LTD who want to build power station (which will generate power with a marine diesel engine) have appealed to the National Assembly for Wales against Newport City Councils decision to refuse planning permission in respect of the above development. 

The City Council has endeavoured to maintain the quality of life and clean air in one of the most deprived area of Newport. Local considerations aside (and there are plenty of them) there are some global implications if permission is given to build a biofuel power plant in a city. There is a degree of irony here as much has rightly been made of the City's fair-trade status and Green credentials. World class sustainable dwellings are being built at Mariner’s Quay, not to mention the development of Newport High School at Bettws and the stated intention to exceed this specification at Hartridge High School. 

Such achievements should not be cast aside in favour of lowering standards and allowing permission to be granted for a dirty, smelly and unsustainable development such as a diesel generated biofuel power plant. At the Ensus biofuels plant on Teeside, local residents have complained bitterly about having to endure the sickening smell from this new plant. The owners can get away from it, but the residents cannot.

Decisions taken locally can have global implications:

Burning plant based materials uses land which should be used for growing food as world population increases and can leave the atmosphere worse off

The cheapest biofuel currently used is palm oil. This is a primary cause of rainforest deforestation, disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples, and destruction of 10 million hectares of Indonesian peatland. Stripping primary forest for palm oil production also endangers species survival for tree dwellers such as the orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra

The EU did not foresee the problems raised by its policy to get 10% of Europe's road fuels from plants and has promised new guidelines to ensure that its target is not damaging.

Biofuels possibly have a negative impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere under current EU regulations.

With biofuels, we are always going to be putting out more pollution than real renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal, and wave power, so no matter how efficient we make the production of the biofuels, they will still produce more pollution. Even with the best biofuel in the world, we will never come close to reducing air pollution as much as wind or solar.

So lets consider all the implications of granting permission for a biofuels plant here in Newport. There is a very real concern that the destruction caused by growing them will be virtually irreversible. We only have this one planet, so let us err on the side of caution and work to make sure that after due consideration this appeal is rejected in Newport and by the National Assembly.


Newport Against Biofuels (NBB) were out and about today in Newport City Centre with a stall talking to people and letting them know what's going on and gathering support for the campaign.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


In Scotland, the SNP Government is overseeing the development of a new generation of prototype wave power machines. This as Alex Salmond has pointed out is "another significant step" in Scotland's journey to become the green energy powerhouse of Europe.

The wave power machine, which was built in Leith, is some 180m long, weighs 1,500 tonnes and can produce 750kW of electricity. The Vagr Atferd generator is being transported to Orkney, where it will be tested in situ for three years to prepare it for commercial use. 

I mention this for a variety of reasons, one being that if you have proper powers in relation to energy development and the political will it is amazing what you can achieve. Also, energy (and energy cost) is a key issue in Scotland, there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament (on the 21st April 2010) which looked at the charges that Scotland pays to connect to the National Grid.

Basically it works like this; electricity produced not far from me here can cost me far more per kilowatt than it can someone who lives in the south-east of England. In Scotland, electricity industry leaders have been demanding an end to the 'unfair' practice, saying that these costs may have an impact on the development of some renewable electricity generation projects causing some to be delayed or abandoned.

Now transmission charges, which electricity generators pay for the cost of the national electricity grid, are a touchy subject not just for energy producers but also for energy users. The charges vary according to how far a power source is located from the main centre of demand, which is London.

So what this means is that in the north of Scotland for example, generators are charged £20.08p per kilowatt but in Central London a power source receives a subsidy of £6.41p per kilowatt. Subsidies are payable across most of southern England.

The National Grid naturally argues that the differentials encourage companies to locate power plants close to demand centres, cutting the costs of the national transmission network and reducing consumers' bills. National Grid are also on record arguing that stronger winds in northern Scotland meant that wind farms situated there generated more power than their southern counterparts and logically could afford to pay the higher transmission changes.

National Grid, a private company regulated by Ofgem, has been looking at how the costs of providing this infrastructure can be recovered from electricity producers and consumers. It has been using its existing pricing, which is already controversial in Scotland because it imposes higher charges on Scottish electricity producers to compensate for the cost of sending power to the main areas of demand in southern England.

The bottom line is that because Scotland generates more power than it consumes and decide to send it south to England they get penalised. While this may be a fact of life, it is decidedly unfair. This is all relevant because, according Jane Davidson AM, the Environment Minister to Wales (July 31, 2009) in Wales we use around 24 TWhr of electricity per year. WAG back in July 2009 then believed that with sufficient innovation and investment, the right Government framework and public support, Wales could produce over 33TWhr per year of electricity from renewable sources. 

For the record, in Scotland, which has a far stronger devolution settlement, has full powers for energy projects over 50mw. These powers for Wales now lie with New Labour’s lasting legacy - the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission. The IPC is based outside of Wales and contains no representative or commissioner from Wales, yet is involved (as of 31st March 2010) in 9 projects either or the Welsh coast or in Wales. 

Interestingly enough successive Scottish administrations regardless of their political hue have pursued energy agendas which have ruled out nuclear power. One thing is certain we need a real debate about developing an energy strategy for Wales, one that encourages and empowers small energy producers.

To do this properly we need to make sure that the issue of the devolution of power consents for power stations over 50 Megawatts takes place sooner rather than later. In the meantime, National Grid must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospects of more revenue. Potential alternative and sustainable energy generators in Wales beware…

Monday, 17 May 2010


I wonder if sometime during PM Dave (or are we back to David now?) Cameron's visit to Wales  we will get told that the Liberal Democrat / Conservative Government is going to commit to completing the electrification of the main south coast rail line from Swansea to Severn Tunnel (and on to London). Or will it be one of the first big  infrastructure projects to bite the bullet under 'Slasher' Osbourne's programme of cuts? If this is so, then it will show a fundamental difference between Ireland and the UK, where, despite the austerity package to fix the financial crisis work continues on the West Coast Rail Corridor  project. 

Friday, 14 May 2010


So, providing that that the 5 years fixed term remains a fact of the life, then the date of the proposed next Westminster election will be Thursday 7th May 2015 - oops isn't that exactly the day of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliamentary elections. Coincidence or what? While one would like to think that the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat chums are not that dull as to have not realised it? One suspects that party political advantage may have been a major factor in the decision rather than it being down to coincidence rather than an attempt to boost turnout?

If you follow that sort of logic then any referendum on primary lawmaking powers should take place on Thursday 5th May 2011, the of the National Assembly elections, for that will increase turnout as well. An interesting thought, but, one that does not hold sway with the Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders in the National Assembly who (especially the Conservatives) have been well set against any previous suggestion of that idea. Their reasoning being that it would confuse the voters; rather than simply rend their parties asunder, with some campaigning for and some campaigning against, whilst simultaneously trying to fight a united campaign.

It may be interesting trying to fight two simultaneous general style election campaigns with 100 candidates a piece, with two manifesto's, two different sets of media coverage. Not to mention twice as much campaign literature and at least 3 ballot papers, and possibly at least two different electoral systems and that before you begin to take into account any effects of electoral reform (or not). If this stands then it is going to be one hell of an interesting organisational and logistical exercise for any political party, the voters and not doubt somewhat hard pressed election officials.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Ended up getting involved in Dragons Eye speed dating exercise (between the big 4 political parties in Wales) filmed in the (highly recommended and very welcoming) WHAT Café by the Hand Post (in Newport) yesterday - it will be broadcast at 7pm (on BBC 2 Wales) and well after the news at 11.35pm (on BBC 1 Wales) tonight. Oddly enough it's not a programme I watch - being involved in politics I tend to avoid 'political' programmes like the plague. A similar thing happened to me previously as when I was working for the Metropolitan Police Press Office I stopped watching the Bill.

Anyway despite the somewhat artificial cobbled together nature of the exercise it was an interesting non partisan way to spend an hour and a quarter (which may end up as 5 mins tops after editing) seeing what we had in common. The Labour and Lib Dem representatives agreed that Wales needed fair funding and that Wales had been underfunded, that Barnet had to go and that replacing it with Holtham (in full) was the way to go (the Tory didn't) - he never even recognised that Wales had been short-changed, despite years and years of contributions to the central pot.

There, were however, refreshingly some areas of common ground, for example we agreed (all of us) that front line NHS services needed to be protected from any future cuts. There was even some common ground on exiting Afghanistan and growing the green economy and green jobs (Plaid, Lab and Lib Dems).

The Lib Dems also agreed that we needed a referendum on more powers and that the National Assembly needed the tools to do the job - never got the chance to discuss that with the Tory representative though. Touched on Trident with the Lib Dems, just touched on better care for our service personnel their families and veterans with the Tory and the need for an independent venture capital fund to grow small to medium sized businesses and that small businesses are the life blood of our communities, and the need to scrap business rates, when proceedings got called to a halt.

We were summing up in a non partisan way and commenting on the things that we all had in common, when the Lib Dem went a tad off message to try and score a cheap political point (well that is what they do best!) talking about the elephant in the room i.e. the fact that shock horror - Plaid wants independence for Wales! Now this is no secret, it's not like we have hidden it, we are proud of it - it's a long term aim - what's yours is a serious question that needs to be asked!

Now the last election and the next one won't be fought on it, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the opposition parties will bring it up to try and cloud the issue, perhaps to distract from the lack of Wales focused polices and the fact that they are merely paying lip-service to improving Wales as they are branch offices of their London based Parties. 

To be honest, with a few honourable exceptions and certainly not as people, I do heartily dislike the Lib Dems, at least with the Tories and New and Old Labour, you get what is says on the tin. The Lib Dems are different, hungry for power (and all the trimmings that go with it) at every level of government they are prepared to say and do anything for power, at a local level they have talked up a scare about the threatened closure of a local post office (which was not under threat) and have campaigned vociferously for speed humps (for 6 months) only when they prove ineffective and exceptionally noisy to residents, then spend the next 6 months campaigning to get rid of them!

What will happen in the next few weeks and months is that pretty rapidly the Voters both locally and nationally will come to regret voting Lib Dem - especially when the cuts start to bite. The Tories both locally and nationally may also yet come to regret bringing the Lib Dems on board. From the Lib Dem perspective trading the prospect of a referendum on STV for a more limited form of PR for a few ministerial limousines may prove in the medium to long term their undoing. Additionally I suspect that many voters will never trust or vote for them again.


The other weekend (2nd May), largely unnoticed especially by the usually vocal yet sycophantic apologists for the repressive Cuban Communist dictatorship, who were somewhat understandably preoccupied with the final days of the Westminster general election, the wives and mothers of various political prisoners held in Cuba were finally allowed to hold their weekly protest for the first time in three weeks without being harassed.

Previously Communist Government supporters had blocked the women, known as Ladies in White, from marching on the previous two Sundays. It takes real courage to confront a dictatorship that imprisons without trial (well save for show trials) and detains people who dissent. Perhaps this is a beginning the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina and Charter 77 in old Czechoslovakia were small in number but managed to see out their respective dictatorships. 

The BBC notes that the archbishop of Havana had intervened on behalf of the women, stating that Cardinal Jaime Ortega said the Communist authorities had agreed to allow the marches during the month of May, after which they would review their decision. On Sunday 25th, the women were blocked from marching by government supporters who corralled them into a park, where they shouted insults at them for hours.

For some years the 'ladies in white', a group of wives of political prisoners in Cuba, have been courageously staging weekly marches in the capital Havana. On the 26th April they were blocked and taunted by government supporters, and finally led away to a police bus. The Cuban government has routinely described the dissidents as common criminals who were paid by the US to destabilise the country. 

Cuba (just in case our home grown niavatistas have forgotten) is a repressive Communist dictatorship, earlier this year on 18th March which happens to be the anniversary of the mass arrests in 2003, the majority of whom remain detained remain behind bars, there were protests. This year the anniversary would probably have passed unnoticed save for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was the first Cuban activist to starve himself to death in protest in nearly 40 years.

Even the European Parliament was moved to vote to condemn his death. In response the state controlled Cuban media, ran with a series of highly critical articles which appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Granma almost every day since then the EU vote. The EU has ineffectually called for a policy of engagement and dialogue with the communist-run island, a policy that sits in stark opposite to the continuing US trade embargo.

The US trade embargo has only hurt the long suffering ordinary people most rather than the members and dependants of the Communist Government and its elite, needs to come to an end. There is a pressing need for free and fully democratic elections in Cuba - perhaps this last Communist dictatorship may yet be finally consigned into the dustbin of historywhere it belongs - either way the decision needs to be made neither by the US Government or the Communist Dictatorship, but, by the Cuban people themselves.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


So Old Labour won in the end over New Labour - which finally expired at the polls on May 6th -  in the end finally putting narrow minded party and personal self interest before the peoples interest by finally killing off any slim possibility of a 'progressive grouping' of parties gathering in Westminster to resist proposed Tory cuts.

Now we in Wales (and Scotland) face a questionable Tory / Lib Democratic Government - public sector cuts here we come. Hope Old Labour is proud of itself... I wonder what all those people who voted Liberal Democrat  on May 6th are thinking because they did not want a Tory Government...


The New Labour machine always used to impress people because of its in truth over hyped efficiency - I suspect that fewer and fewer people are impressed as time progresses and the slow motion car crash that involves the final demise of this New Labour Government. In Scotland, New Labour's Douglas Alexander has said that he could not envisage circumstances in which Labour would enter an agreement with the SNP. Meanwhile in Wales, Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, has said that he would expect Plaid Cymru to back a potential Labour and Liberal  Democrat coalition. So much for the same hymn sheet....

Monday, 10 May 2010


The bottom line is that all votes should be equal - the problem is that they are not. The corrupt nineteenth century voting system is a total anachronism, which is no longer fit for purpose. The number of votes accumulated to elect a representative to the Mother of Parliaments (for want of a better phrase) is as follows:

  • Labour MP- 33,350 votes
  • Tory MP- 34,989 votes
  • Plaid MP- 55,131 votes
  • SNP MP- 81,898 votes
  • Lib Dem MP -119,788 votes

It gets worse, not only are votes not equal but the system favours the larger parties. In Wales:

  • Labour got 36.2% of vote and 65% of seats
  • Conservatives got 26.1% of vote and 20% of seats
  • Lib Dems got 20.1% of vote and 7.5% of seats
  • Plaid got 11.3% of vote and 7.5% of seats

While this questionable result might suit Peter Hain (a great defender of 'our democracy' as long as it serves the Labour Party's interests rather than the peoples interests), it should not suit the rest of us. If we are serious about having a working representative democracy where all votes have equal value then we need Single Transferable Vote (STV), with multi member constituencies.

I personally would add one extra refinement, by having open rather than closed lists so that the public can vote for the representatives of the party it prefers. This will retain the link with geographical constituencies and ensure that our representatives have to work to earn their re-election - no more safe seats and easy rides.  Additionally this would put more power in the hands of the electorate by giving then the opportunity to purge the system of the slackers and party hacks and still vote for the party of their choice. 

I would go a little further and make sure that Westminster parliament's to have fixed terms 4 years. This is the controversial bit, I would include a limit to the number of consecutive terms that elected members can serve, say no more than 3 terms ( or 12 years), if they want to serve a fourth, go away and get a real job for 4 years and try your luck again. If we are serious about our democracy then this should also apply to Local councils at county and community level as well.

Elective public service, for that's what is is should not be a job for life and neither should it be a path for personal enrichment, the same rules that apply to senior civil servants should be adapted to prevent former politicians from cashing acquire knowledge for tidy jobs immediately after their term in office ends. 

Saturday, 8 May 2010


Monmouth constituency, depending on your point of view is blessed (for want of a better word) with David Davies as its MP, someone who is well known for being opinionated on many matters - some controversial, some not so controversial. Yet there are topics upon which Mr Davies is entirely silent, not a single comment - one to these is the ongoing controversy that surrounds the questionable role of Conservative run (badly run in many peoples eyes) Monmouthshire County Council in the fate of Abergavenny Livestock Market.

The fate of the livestock market in Abergavenny is something that has animated for the right reasons a great many people in and around Abergavenny - townspeople, small farmers, small business people and visitors to the town, who are concerned about the long term economic consequences of losing the Livestock Market and replacing it with (as has been proposed once more) a supermarket.

The ongoing campaign to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market (KALM) and to preserve the unique character of Abergavenny as a traditional market town has shown that both local residents and many local small farmers wish to retain the Cattle Market in Abergavenny. Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) has been trying to close this issue and make its decisions behind closed doors out of sight and out of mind.

What should have been a real opportunity to get things right and to work closely with local people to preserve the livestock market and sympathetically redevelop the unused portion of the livestock market has become a key issue for many people and a serious bone of contention with the County Council. The campaign to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market (KALM) has effectively presented MCC with a real opportunity to begin the whole process afresh, this time working hand in hand with concerned local residents, farmers and small businesses to ensure that Abergavenny retains its Cattle Market and its fundamentally unique character as a market town.

Oddly enough, this has not happened! MCC is still hell-bent on removing the Livestock Market from Abergavenny and refuse point blank to talk to those people campaigning for an alternative solution. The Conservative Party in Monmouthshire has effectively closed ranks, the sitting Conservative AM, Nick Ramsay amazingly made himself scarce to avoid having to receive some 5,000+ signed letters of objection at the National Assembly last year and has been conspicuous by his silence (just like David Davies MP) ever since. 

There is a bigger issue at stake here than the fate of Abegavenny Livestock Market - across Monmouthshire (and many other small and larger towns across England and Wales) many people have taken note of the fact that we have to often in the past seen ill-thought out unsympathetic redevelopments that have had a detrimental effect on the local economies in both Chepstow and Monmouth and elsewhere.

The ongoing campaign retention of the cattle market (and the concerns expressed to me on the doorstep over the years in various election campaigns in Monmouth constituency, when in and around Abergavenny) should be acted upon for they are a real opportunity to do something fundamentally different, something that should be able to address both environmental and economic concerns and contribute to the retention of the unique character of the market town that is Abergavenny.

At some point the National Assembly will have to take note and action for National Assembly Ministers, under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 have the power to call in any applications for planning permission for their own determination, something that clearly needs to be done in this specific case. While there is a tendency to consider that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities, it is pretty obvious that with regard to MCC, and the redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market this is clearly not the case, hence the need to call in this proposed development.

Planning applications can be called in when they raise issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; may give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality and are likely significantly to affect sites of scientific, nature conservation or historic interest or areas of landscape importance which covers almost every aspect of the proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny cattle market.

Most people can see that Abergavenny needs to retain its unique, attractive features and not join the sterile trend towards large retail and supermarket-dominated clone town centre deserts – save for MCC. In the not so recent past a whole range of suppliers, traders and small businesses who sell to consumers and too each other have along with whole communities suffered from this increasingly well recognised but misguided model of retailing and economic development. Elsewhere in Monmouthshire, the damage done to Monmouth and Chepstow by ill-thought out retail chain dominated economic redevelopment - no one in their right mind would want to damage Abergavenny’s economy and unique character as a market town.

In the meantime the decisions made by Conservative run Monmouthshire County Council in relation to the disposal of the Livestock Market site in Abergavenny need serious scrutiny. On one level alone (and there are more areas of concern) it is clear that the County Council (which will gain financially from the disposal of the asset that is the Livestock Market) is not and has never acted as an impartial participant in the planning process.

The continued silence of Monmouth Constituency's Conservative representatives David Davies MP in Westminster and Nick Ramsay AM in Cardiff should also be noted as they are clearly following the party line at the expense of the their constituents interests and at the expense of the future sustainable prosperity of the town of Abergavenny and the north west of their constituency and beyond. It's pretty clear that any invitation to join them (the Conservatives) in government does not run to Monmouth Constituency - I wonder what David ("Call me Dave") Cameron would think of that? 

Friday, 7 May 2010


Well there we are then, the morning after the night before and I am awake (just) after some three and bit hours of sleep - it was a long night! Firstly a massive thank you to my agent and my campaign team and the punters of Monmouth / Mynwy - it has been as always an interesting (if particularly long) campaign which gave me the opportunity to talk to and meet with many (and varied) constituents during the course of my 33 month prolonged tour of (in my opinion) one of the most interesting and varied constituencies in Wales. 

Secondly, there are real bread and butter issues that still need to be fought for, including:

  • the ongoing fight to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market,
  • the retention of small village and community schools,
  • the need for more Police officers and fully staffed Police stations,
  • better rail and bus services (with at least a gesture towards integrating the two!),
  • real decent and affordable housing for younger people,
  • a fair deal for our farmers,
  • better public procurement of local foodstuffs by our hospitals, schools and other public bodies,      
  • a fair deal for our service personnel and their families,
  • a fair deal for our pensioners,
  • a level playing field for our small businesses (which are the literal economic lifeblood of many of our smaller towns),
  • abolition of the business rate, 
  • the refurbishment of many of Monmouthshire's existing schools,
  • a real need for a fair assessment of Monmouthshire County Council's financial settlement (it has the worst in Wales),
  • and many more...

I think that there is a while yet before the final results come in and this Westminster election may take us all into wholly new political territory.  In Monmouth constituency, we now have to bed in the new members, and prepare the ground for the National Assembly elections (in 2011) and local Government elections (in 2012). Having fought Monmouth three times (twice for Westminster and once for the National Assembly) I have reached the stage when I can recognise when the adrenaline is running out, the coffee is no longer having any effect and the sleep of a seriously tired former prospective parliamentary candidate is beckoning... 

Thursday, 6 May 2010


All in all, it has been an interesting campaign, if rather a long one thanks to Gordon the Ditherer, having been selected back in the autumn of 2007, in anticipation of an autumn Westminster General election. Oh boy! Gordo I will bet that blunder has kept you awake night after night, not to mention the self induced economic disaster that happened on your watch! In truth I have never liked the word in this particular context as - 'watch' would imply some degree of activity, well any degree of activity!

I would say that on the whole it has been a clean well fought campaign, despite an increasingly desperate attempt by the New Labour candidate to inject some life into his failing campaign by having a pop at the Tory candidate in the last few weeks. Think if we (the other candidates) hear from New Labour lips the oily smoothly delivered phrase 'progressive consensus' one more time then we may not be responsible for our actions. The irony is that the current New Labour Party would not know a progressive consensus if it fell over one in the street!

Roll on close of poll, a bumper crop of new Plaid MPs - who will champion their constituents interests, fight for fair funding for Wales a fair deal for our pensions, our service men and women and our military veterans! Roll on a hung parliament! Roll on electoral oblivion to those MP's who were caught with their fingers in the till and electoral reform! Think Different, Think Plaid!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


A long final day of this campaign, on the doors this morning and this afternoon - New Labour are not surprisingly deeply unpopular with the voters. It's quite interesting, the voters are not in a good mood at all - there is some serious venom (if not hatred) being directed at New Labour on a scale I would suggest with that directed at the Tories in 1997. It's not just New Labour though, the parliamentary expenses scandal has not gone away, people may not be so visibly angry as they were this time last year, but, that anger and discontent has not gone away. I think that Polling Day is going to throw up all sorts of surprises for all of the parties.  It's been a long day and its not over yet...


A busy final few days of this campaign, after a long Monday the day closed with a well organised hustings at the Drill Hall, in Chepstow, which was packed out, with some punters standing for the duration. The usual suspects were all present save for UKIP who was absent.   The main issues came up as one would expect, the economy, the banks, education, health,small towns, etc - once again many of these are devolved issues, so an MP would not have that much influence over them.

An interesting evening, which got a bit fire when the new Labour and Conservative candidates who clearly don't like each other and by this stage in the campaign, can not longer be bothered to hide it had a few increasingly ill-tempered pops at each other. This was not something that went down particularly well with the audience, still it had been a long day and it was well past their respective bed times. Don't think that anyone was prepared the rant form the conservative candidate at the end in his closing statement, not, judging from the looks of surprise that were clearly visible on the face so the audience. 

Tuesday was a long day, what with busy being out talking to prospective voters in Caldciot and Abergavenny High Streets, through the morning and into the mid afternoon. The final hustings of the campaign, took place at the Hogs Head, Llantilio Crosseny, near Abergavenny, which is well worth a visit at any time. It was well organised and very well attended, again with standing room only at the back - whoever said that the electorate are not interested, has clearly not attended the six hustings meetings that have taken place over the last eight days in Monmouth constituency. 

Once again a number of devolved issues came up along with the usual subjects which ranged from education, local services, Monmouthshire County Council, Abergavenny Cattle Market, farming and the economy and the banks, not to mention fixing broken Britain and the political system. This hustings (which was UKIP free again!) was largely rant free save for the occasional ill-natured asides between the New Labour candidate and the Conservative candidate. A good night, after a long day... 

One more day to go... 

Monday, 3 May 2010


With David ("Call me Dave") Cameron desperately trying to inject some momentum into a pretty lacklustre campaign, where he has succeeded in losing a ten point lead that he had previously maintained for some two years, it's worth by-passing the "We are the NICE Party Honest? Spin" to remember who is actually paying the piper. 

Until 2002, it was Lord Ashcroft who (then at least) actually gave donations to the Conservative Party under his own name. From 2003, donations came through Bearwood Corporate services, a small company whose headquarters are a service address at a firm of accountants in Southampton. He also runs Flying Lion, a private airline. His wife, Susan Anstey, is an active Tory donor.

The Times (1st March 2010) published a short guide to the money donated by Lord Ashcroft, his companies and his relations:

Lord Ashcroft

2001: £6,996 cash and £51,750 non cash
2002: £22,980 non cash

Lord Ashcroft for visit for Liam Fox to Oman and Saudi Arabia in 2006: £3,200


2003: £27,000 cash
2004: £274,063 cash plus £9,269 non cash
2005: £667,165 cash plus £28,291 non cash
2006: £59,136 cash plus £444,619 non cash
2007: £275,000 cash plus £1.42m non cash
2008: £300,000 cash plus £1.3m non cash
2009: £0 cash plus £329,858 non cash

Bearwood to "Conservatives for Change" in 2002/3: £24,000

Flying Lion

2006 2 trips, to Khartoum and Prague £19,819
2009 3 trips, to US, Qatar and China £20,393

Just to make things interesting it does not stop here...

Susan Anstey (Lady Ashcroft)

2003: £5,100 cash plus £5,777 non cash
2004: £9,350 cash plus £76,382 non cash
2005: £7,000 non cash
2006: £20,860 cash plus £51,850 non cash
2007: none
2008: £263,000 cash plus £600 non cash
2009: £5,000 cash plus £124,520 non cash

Susan Anstey to David Cameron leadership campaign in 2005: £20,000
Susan Anstey to Steve Norris campaign: £75,000

Bearwood total since David Cameron came in (Q1 2006 to Q4 2009): £4.13 out of £89.5 million (4.6 per cent)

A couple of questions, firstly, is this called representation without taxation? And can poor (figuratively rather than literally) old Lord Ashcroft get his money back when David ("Call me Dave") Cameron fails to deliver the goods for the previously agreed price? Or at least reclaim his investment through the courts under trades descriptions - as he must have thought he was buying a political party not a political road traffic accident?

Sunday, 2 May 2010


I think that its time for the London (and Cardiff) Media to grow up (or catch up) when it comes to the realities of a balanced or a hung parliament, for a couple of reasons, one being that at the end of the day if there is a hung parliament, however the percentages work out and that is something we won't know until the 7th May, this will be a direct result of the voters choice. 

Secondly, potential coalitions are not negotiated until after the election is over, not before, even coalition partners chase every single vote, until the ballot closes and chase every single electoral advantage they can get. Negotiations then follow (after the result)  it being pretty impossible to negotiate a coalition prior to any knowledge of the final result - clearly this is something the BBC seems to be failing or at least struggling to grasp. 

You would think that the BBC in Wales and Scotland, where coalition government has and is a reality would be able to grasp, and at least they might try to pass that acquired knowledge onto their colleagues from the distant metropolis. Additionally there is little point in constantly referring to the various parties manifesto pledges, because (and here is the big one which the BBC in particular seem to be failing to grasp) coalition programmes (if formalised) are negotiated, item by item.

This, if that's the voters final choice, is the brave new political world where we may end up - so the BBC and the rest of the Media had better play catch up pretty quickly.